Cover of the album

Iron Maiden's "Killers" is a concept album

Matt Fantinel

by Matt Fantinel

16 Jun 2023 - 12 min read

Misc

So, today I was doing the dishes and decided to listen to some music on my headphones. I was in the mood for some Iron Maiden, so I shuffled my playlist of my favorites from them (which includes almost every one of their songs 😆). The first track to play was Drifter, the last song from their second album, Killers. It's a really good song so I decided to play the entire album instead.

I've listened to this album countless times, but I'd never really paid attention to the lyrics. So, as the album played, I was surprised by the small plot twist at the end of Murders In The Rue Morgue, which was one of the songs I never really paid much attention to the lyrics. I was like "wait, what?!" and decided to pay more attention to the lyrics of the rest of the album. And then it hit me:

Killers is a concept album
, with all songs being sung by the same character!

The album touches on the subjects of murder, suicide and drugs, so be wary of proceeding if this is a sensitive topic for you.

So, let's go through each song and see how they fit together. Feel free to follow along with the music:

The Ides Of March

This song is instrumental, so there's not much to analyse here (the music is awesome though!). All we have is the name of the song, which refers to the fate of Julius Caesar, most famously retold by Shakespeare, after he was warned to “beware the Ides of March”; he was brutely murdered on that date.

So, yeah, the album starts with a warning of what's to come. It's no secret that a concept album called "Killers" is going to be about murder, right?

Wrathchild

Here we get introduced to the narrator (which we'll call "Wrathchild" from now on). He seems to have had a very troubled childhood, as seen below:

I was born into a scene of angriness and greed

Dominance and persecution

My mother was a queen, my dad I've never seen

I was never meant to be

This obviously isn't good and a child that goes through that kind of trauma will likely have issues in the future - as seen in the next verse, where the Wrathchild talks about an obsessive wish to meet his father.

And now I spend my time looking all around

For a man that's nowhere to be found

Until I find him, I'm never gonna stop searching

I'm gonna find my man, gonna travel around

---

Say it doesn't matter, ain't nothin' gonna alter

The course of my destination

know I've got to find some serious peace of mind

Or I know I'll just go crazy

Already feeling the consequences of a troubled childhood, the Wrathchild starts traveling around in search of his father. Which leads us to...

Murders In The Rue Morgue

Honestly the lyrics of this song are much more straightforward since it's a more direct narration of what's going on. I'm gonna bring over only the most relevant parts:

I was strolling through the streets of Paris

And then I heard a piercing scream And I rushed to the scene of the crime

But all I found was the butchered remains Of two girls layin' side by side

The Wrathchild (who was traveling around in search of their father) is now in Paris and suddenly finds the scene of a murder in the street.

There's some people coming down the street

At last someone heard my call

Can't understand why they're pointing at me

I never done nothing at all

But I got some blood on my hands

Because everybody's shouting at me

I can't speak French so I couldn't explain

And like a fool I started running away

People start accusing the Wrathchild as the murderer, and he can't defend himself since he doesn't speak the local language. He starts running away out of panic, and then starts being persecuted by the law, which makes him flee France through the southern border, to Italy.

If I could go to somebody for help

To get me out of trouble for sure

But I know that it's on my mind

That my doctor said I've done it before

.... Ooooh! That last line is a big plot twist! This means that the Wrathchild might actually be the murderer, he just doesn't remember it, and his doctor has told him something similar has happened before. To me, this strongly implies Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), which often originates from trauma (the troubled childhood), and would explain how the Wrathchild could have murdered someone and not remember it. It also explains the "I got some blood on my hands" line earlier in the song, which apparently wasn't a metaphor...

It's also worth noting that it seems that the killer personality might be the one that's causing the urge to run away, as that personality knows what it's done.

Another Life

As I lay here lying on my bed

Sweet voices come into my head

(...)

There's a feeling that's inside me

Telling me to get away, yeah

But I'm so tired of living

I might as well end today

This song's lyrics and pretty short. Here, the Wrathchild talks about hearing voices in his head, and these voices are telling him to "get away". It's probably the voice of the killer personality from the previous song. The Wrathchild is tired of living and contemplates suicide.

Genghis Khan

This is another instrumental song and doesn't really tie in to the rest of the album's theme - except for the fact the Genghis Khan killed a lot of people, I guess?

Innocent Exile

My life is so empty, nothing to live for

My mind is all confusion, 'cos I defied the law

When you weren't there to help me, I lost my mind and ran

I never had no trouble before this all began, yeah

In this song, the Wrathchild is still suffering the consequences of the Murder in the Rue Morgue. They claim their mind is confused (which makes sense because of DID).

Another really interesting line is when he says he "never had no trouble before this all began". Usually cases of DID occur because the mind is trying to protect itself from the trauma. So, it makes sense that this personality feels like it never had any trouble before, as it doesn't remember any of the trauma . All the bottled up anger was instead channeled into the killer personality.

They say I killed a woman, they know it isn't true

They're just trying to frame me, and all because of you, yeah

This last line feels like one personality talking to another. The Wrathchild appears to be aware that the Killer exists, and is talking directly to it. However, it doesn't seem like he realizes that they are in fact the same person.

Killers

In the title track, the lines between the personalities start to blur. Think about it - so far there has been only one killer in the album, but the track is called Killers, plural.

The first verse of the song is narrated by the Wrathchild:

You walk through the subway, his eyes burn a hole in your back

A footstep behind you, he lunges prepared for attack

Scream for mercy, he laughs as he's watching you bleed

Killer behind you, his blood lust defies all his needs

While the second verse is narrated by the Killer personality, but pay attention to the last line:

My innocent victims are slaughtered with wrath and despise

The mocking religion of hatred that burns in the night

I have no one, I'm bound to destroy all this greed

A voice inside me compelling to satisfy me

The other 3 lines are sang by the Killer, but that last one seems to be sang by the Wrathchild, since the voice inside him is the Killer.

At the end of the song, the line between the two personalities seem to have disappeared completely. It's really similar to the first verse of the song, but the pronouns are all mixed up now, and we don't really know who is talking anymore.

You walk through the subway, my eyes burn a hole in your back

A footstep behind you, he lunges prepared for attack

Scream for mercy, he laughs as he's watching you bleed

Killer behind you, my blood lust defies all my needs

Ooh look out, I'm coming for you!

🤯

Prodigal Son

This song was the hardest to make sense of, but I think I figured out how it fits overall. In this song, the Wrathchild seems to be back in control, but has become aware of the Killer personality, and aware that they are the same person.

A "Prodigal Son" is a person that leaves home to live a reckless life, and then makes a repentant return. This is exactly what the Wrathchild is doing in this song. He is repenting for the murders he committed, and is scared of his inner urges and scared of ending his own life.

Listen to me, Lamia, listen to what I've got to say

I've got these feelings and they won't go away

I've got these fears inside that'll bring me to my knees

Oh, help me, Lamia, or I'm sure I'll die, oh, please

I feel unsettled, now I know that I've done wrong

I've messed around with mystic things and magic for far too long

I feel I'm being paid with this nightmare inside me

The devil's got a hold on my soul and he just won't let me be

Here it becomes clear that the Wrathchild now understands better what's been going on, and starts asking Lamia for help. He mentions "mystic things and magic" which could be a reference to the uncommon and unknown nature of his disorder (which could be seen as some sort of "magic" or "pact with the devil"). Maybe he sees the Killer as the devil taking hold of his soul.

But who is Lamia? I've found some info about her being a monster in Greek Mythology. But what caught my attention was this line from the Wikipedia article:

The "Lamia" was a bogeyman or bugbear term, invoked by a mother or a nanny to frighten children into good behavior.

It makes sense for a traumatized person to recall his childhood and think of the "bogeyman" that used to be used to scare him into behaving. The Wrathchild definitely feels like he deserves some sort of punishment in order to atone for his sins.

Purgatory

This absolute banger of a song has some cryptic lyrics, but I'm confident they are about the Wrathchild trying to get away from his pain by resorting to drugs, possibly LSD.

I split my brain, melt through the floor

Over clouds my mind will fly

Forever now I can't think why

My body tries to leave my soul

Is it me, I just don't know

"Split my brain" could be a reference to the DID, and "melt through the floor" could be a reference to the effects of LSD. The sensation of the soul leaving the body is a commonly reported effect of the drug.

Oh, another time, another place

Oh, another smile on another face

Please take me away, take me away, so far away

These effects, while confusing, appear to be a welcome escape from the Wrathchild's pain. He seems to be able to picture a different life where he is actually happy, and wants to be taken to that place. The name of the song, Purgatory, makes a lot of sense in this context, as he seems to be in a state that's not really good, but it's at least better than the life he's had.

Drifter

The last song of the album depicts the Wrathchild after being severely affected by the drugs. He is now a drifter, and seems to be wanting to "cure" other people of their pain by bringing them over to the same "purgatory" he's been living in.

Gonna get you feeling so secure

Listen, child, don't you see there's a cure?

Anyway, got to get you away

Feels so good, think it's gonna be a new day

The song (and the album) then ends with the Wrathchild fading out "singing his song". It's not really a happy ending, but one that makes a lot of sense, doesn't it?

Wrapping up

So.... that's it. I hope you enjoyed going down this rabbit hole with me. I'm pretty sure a lot of this wasn't intended by the band, but it's my interpretation and that's good enough for me.

Up the Irons! 🤘

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